Leaving so soon? Unusual planetary nebula fades mere decades after it arrived

Two images of the Stingray Nebula, shown side-by-side for comparison. On the left is the nebula in 1996, on the right is the nebula in 2016.

Two images of the Stingray Nebula, located in the direction of the southern constellation Ara – or the Altar – captured 20 years apart by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The image on the left was taken in March 1996, while the image on the right was captured in January 2016.NASA/ESA/Bruce Balick/Martín Guerrero/Gerardo Ramos-Larios

Stars are rather patient. They can live for billions of years, and they typically make slow transitions – sometimes over many millions of years – between the different stages of their lives.

So when a previously typical star’s behavior rapidly changes in a few decades, astronomers take note and get to work.

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